Being as good a friend to yourself as you are to others is an act of kindness, self-compassion. Self-compassion is the ability to nurture, encourage and be patient with oneself. Self-compassion is not self-esteem however, self-compassion enables the individual to reset the metric, stop benchmarking oneself against others meaning ‘you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself.’ (Neff, K 2021).
Self-compassion is not, indulgent, selfish or narcissistic, rather it is accepting of one’s own frailties, acknowledging that from time to time it’s ok to be frustrated, worried or sad, but not ok for those emotions to define who you are. Self-compassion allows you to defuse, accept, rationalise and embrace the things we can do and so stop obsessing about the things we cannot.
We will all of been unkind to ourselves. We will, from time to time, hold a mirror up to ourselves and obsess over how we feel people perceive us, our material possessions or our social status. This comparison is fuelled by the algorithms that drive so many of our digital interactions. The adverts we receive, the posts that are channelled to us and the subsequent, often negative, interactions this all drives. It results in a very constricted view of ourselves and the world in which we live. This is, in part by design, however, when our interactions become increasingly negative, our emotions are further compounded by an unconscious bias and inevitability our self-narrative becomes more and more destructive, in short, we become unkind towards ourselves.
So how to break the cycle of unkindness and become a best friend to ourselves?
Promising to become more self-compassionate is an investment in you. The return on your investment in self-compassion is what you learn about yourself. In getting to know yourself better you will develop an ability to mitigate against the negative thought, silence the bully that resides within that results in a kinder you to you
In becoming self-compassionate, kinder to yourself, it is best approached gently, with soft hands and wonder. It is best not to specify defined goals, embrace the opportunity with curiosity, it’s the ‘journey’ not the destination.
I ask you begin by noticing the good things, for this is how we begin to defuse from the negative unconscious bias engrained in so many of us. It is this unconscious bias that has resulted in many of us becoming very adept at noticing what we perceive as wrong, broken or not good enough. Self-compassion, however, provides the platform to reframe this negative assumption, change the paradigm, switch the polarity around and focus our attention on the positive.
To help embed this new behaviour consider starting a journal. Once a day set aside five minutes, perhaps just before bed or as you wait for your cup of tea to cool capture three things you have noticed that are good: birdsong, a warm fluffy dressing gown or that cup of tea between your hands in a brief moment of respite. It truly is the ‘little things’, it’s about resetting the personal metric so that it reflects your specific situation.
Self-compassion can teach us to appreciate those little things, savour the moment. It is this gratitude that can construct a greater sense of value for ourselves, the contribution we make and, in doing so, foster a greater appetite for self-compassion.
We can, when under pressure, become so target focused that we forget to lift our head and look around once and a while. S it can be helpful to consider the ‘whole board’, not simply ‘the square’ you are on. Like all grand chess masters, they are always two or three moves ahead in their mind built on the premise of ‘if’ my opponent does this ‘then’ I will do this. This ‘if & then’ plan builds contingencies into the game and is a useful metaphor for life. As you consider your own ‘if & then’ plan you will notice, savour and value an increasing ability to be more self-aware, able to self-regulate and motivated, in essence you will, as a product of being kinder to yourself, be more emotionally intelligent.
In being a self-compassion person, you can choose to warmly embrace oneself during those times life happens. I refer to those things that happen beyond our control: pandemic, loss and the selfishness of others. It ‘sucks’, it’s unfair and most definitely hurts but, by being self-compassionate you will not take it to heart or take it personally. You will become more adept at defusing from the emotions that fuel anger, anxiety or the signs and symptoms of depression. Self-compassion enables acceptance, acceptance for what you can do and more importantly what you cannot. This is because self-compassion teaches us to better rationalise, make a proper assessment of a given situation and identify the solutions that are right for us and the people we care about.
Self-compassion is about not allowing ourselves to give up, because life canbe hard however, it gives us capacity to try another way, it says it’s ok to not succeed the first time, let’s try this instead. Think about how you will undoubtedly have and continue to nurture your friends, children and colleagues’ efforts. When, if they ‘fall over’, you ask if they are alright, if they need a hand, how you laugh with them not at them. You will be a good friend to so many, so it’s ok to afford the same courtesy for yourself.
The concept of self-compassion can be counterintuitive at times, hard to understand and apply but with curiosity, a little help and practice self-compassion can be realised. Kindness costs nothing, goes the phrase, so how will kindness manifest in you?
Brett Rennolds is a qualified psychotherapist DSFH, HPD, MNCH NCH Supervisor and registered with the Complimentary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Brett specialises in a solution-focused approach, complimented by the principles of CBT, ACT, mental health first aid and hypnotherapy. He continues to provide therapy online, via an encrypted platform. For more information please visit his website.